Big O Experience: Help or Hurt on Istokpoga?
2013 GEICO Challenge Cup, Lake Istokpoga, Oct. 22 - 27, 2012
Permitted use provided by: MajorLeagueFishing.com
Standing on the dock at Istokpoga Marina as the first light of dawn began to glow on the eastern horizon just off the Florida coast, a popular question being asked was this: does Lake Okeechobee knowledge help or hurt this week on Lake Istokpoga?
That question was being posed since all of the eight opening round pros have fished the nearby Florida giant freshwater lake during either Bassmaster Elite Series events or FLW Tour events.
This, of course, isn't the Elite Series or the FLW Tour. It's the Jack Link's Major League Fishing 2013 GEICO Challenge Cup on 28,000-acre Lake Istokpoga instead.
These anglers carry no local intel, no Internet research, and no practice time spent fishing on this body of water. Not to mention the fact that it's late October and most of these anglers have fished Okeechobee during the spring.
So back to the proverbial $64,000 question: does Okeechobee knowledge help or hurt?
"I wish I was one of those who knew Okeechobee really well," laughed Oklahoma's Edwin Evers. "I've only fished it twice, so I can't say I know it real well.
"(But) Florida is a whole different animal than the rest of the country, it just really, really is. You do need to have an open mind, but still it's Florida, so a junebug worm should play a big part in being successful here."
One thing that Evers said he has been reminding himself of heading into the first Elimination Round is to watch his pace.
"Obviously, we're in Florida and a lot of times in Florida, you've got to slow down to get a bite," he said. "It will be really interesting today to see if you can get some bites on a reaction bait where you can really get to cover (some) water."
Evers said he will also pay attention to water clarity since that can be huge in the Sunshine State.
Especially after the passage of the autumn season's first major cool front.
"We've got a northeast wind and I like the section of the lake that we're in," said Evers. "I think it's going to be the cleanest water after the weather of the last few days."
With two Florida pros in Day One - Shaw Grigsby and Bobby Lane - will Evers pay more attention to the leader board than usual?
"Not more," said the seven-time B.A.S.S. winner. "I pay attention to the leader board all of the time (in MLF competition).
"I need to see where I'm at and where I'm standing and if I need to make an adjustment according to what they're doing," he added. "If I start to see that leader board really move or progress, then obviously I'll need to change something up."
While the last period of the day has proved to be huge in other MLF events, Evers thinks that may not be so this week.
"I think the early bite is going to be huge," he said. "And we're going to get out there about 30 minutes after daylight, about 30 minutes later than I'd like to be out there. But (yeah), it would be great to get on them right off the bat."
South Carolina's Jason Quinn agrees and expects an active bite.
Especially given Istokpoga's southern latitude.
Zone 6: 8.4 miles primary shoreline, 0.9 miles island shoreline, 5,836 acres
"You look at (this place) another month from now and you'll already have some fish moving up on the beds," said Quinn, a one-time winner on the B.A.S.S. tour. "The fish ought to be feeding up real heavily right now."
While Quinn has no previous experience on Istokpoga, he does have enough experience in the Sunshine State that he hits the water with a few ideas in mind.
"It's typical Florida fishing in that it's shallow," he said. "We're going to be facing a lot of wind today, but it looks like (the end of the lake we're on), we're going to be a little bit protected."
That should help keep the water clean and perhaps stimulate the fish to bite.
Alabama's Boyd Duckett, co-founder of Major League Fishing and the 2007 Bassmaster Classic champ, believes that any experience in Florida has to be a help to an angler, not a hindrance.
"The experience that anybody has in Florida helps," said Duckett, a four-time B.A.S.S. winner. "Florida to me has always been a completely different bass fishing environment than the rest of the country.
"You've got 48 states and then Florida. They (bass) don't act the same (here) and are completely different (here) so all of the time that anybody has (spent) in Florida helps you understand Florida bass and why they're so different than the rest of them."
Louisiana pro Greg Hackney thinks there couldn't be a better time for the MLF pros to roll into Lake Placid for the Challenge Cup.
"This is a good time of the year to be fishing anywhere in the country, the weather is changing, cold fronts are coming through and it has a tendency to stimulate these fish," said the three-time B.A.S.S. winner and namesake of Strike King's "Hack Attack" jig.
"Here, it's just basically the end of summer," he added. "But we did have a front come through and it's a little bit cooler. I find that these fronts so early (in the fall) this far south have a tendency to stimulate the fish to bite more so than to shut them off."
Hackney said while he doesn't know anything about Istokpoga, he has heard rumors down through the years about double-digit lunkers being plentiful in the lake.
"I've heard enough rumors about this place to know that it has some giants in it. I heard that it's the best lake in Florida and that's always good!" Hackney laughed.
"But there will also probably be a chance to catch a lot of numbers because it's that time of the year. The fish are schooling and they are on shad and bait, so it ought to be great."
Does Hackney's knowledge of nearby Okeechobee help?
"I have fished Okeechobee a couple of weeks later than this and it's as good as it gets," said Hackney. "To me, November may be the best month of fishing on Okeechobee, so if it's like that (here), we may be right on them and fixing to hit it right on the head."
How does an MLF pro figure out a Florida lake where the depth is all the same and there's vegetation everywhere? Especially since he's never fished it before and has no practice time or intel gathering to fall back on?
Hackney says it's tough, but he does have a possible Ace up his sleeve.
"You know, 90 percent of the time, you're fishing visible (cover)," he said. "But one thing about these lakes, they do have shell beds offshore.
"They may be on a high spot and not necessarily on a big drop, (kind of) in a round mound, but there's a chance that there may be some fish caught offshore in big schools (on these shell beds).
"It's the time of year for that to happen."
Which is why there should be a wild first round shootout on Istokpoga as the Outdoor Channel television cameras look on.
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